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Julius Caesar by  Jacob Abbott

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ROM this time, which was about sixty-seven years before the birth of Christ, Cæsar remained for nine years generally at Rome, engaged there in a constant struggle for power. He was successful in these efforts, rising all the time from one position of influence and honor to another, until he became altogether the most prominent and powerful man in the city. A great many incidents are recorded, as attending these contests, which illustrate in a very striking manner the strange mixture of rude violence and legal formality by which Rome was in those days governed.

Many of the most important offices of the state depended upon the votes of the people; and as the people had very little opportunity to become acquainted with the real merits of the case in respect to questions of government, they gave their votes very much according to the personal popularity of the candidate. Public men had very little moral principle in those [59] days, and they would accordingly resort to any means whatever to procure this personal popularity. They who wanted office were accustomed to bribe influential men among the people to support them, sometimes by promising them subordinate offices, and sometimes by the direct donation of sums of money; and they would try to please the mass of the people, who were too numerous to be paid with offices or with gold, by shows and spectacles, and entertainments of every kind which they would provide for their amusement.

This practice seems to us very absurd; and we wonder that the Roman people should tolerate it, since it is evident that the means for defraying these expenses must come, ultimately, in some way or other, from them. And yet, absurd as it seems, this sort of policy is not wholly disused even in our day. The operas and the theaters, and other similar establishments in France, are sustained, in part, by the government; and the liberality and efficiency with which this is done, forms, in some degree, the basis of the popularity of each succeeding administration. The plan is better systematized and regulated in our day, but it is, in its nature, substantially the same.

[60] In fact, furnishing amusements for the people, and also providing supplies for their wants, as well as affording them protection, were considered the legitimate objects of government in those days. It is very different at the present time, and especially in this country. The whole community are now united in the desire to confine the functions of government within the narrowest possible limits, such as to include only the preservation of public order and public safety. The people prefer to supply their own wants and to provide their own enjoyments, rather than to invest government with the power to do it for them, knowing very well that, on the latter plan, the burdens they will have to bear, though concealed for a time, must be doubled in the end.

It must not be forgotten, however, that there were some reasons in the days of the Romans for providing public amusements for the people on an extended scale which do not exist now. They had very few facilities then for the private and separate enjoyments of home, so that they were much more inclined than the people of this country are now to seek pleasure abroad and in public. The climate, too, mild and genial nearly all the year, favored this. Then they [61] were not interested, as men are now, in the pursuits and avocations of private industry. The people of Rome were not a community of merchants, manufacturers, and citizens, enriching themselves, and adding to the comforts and enjoyments of the rest of mankind by the products of their labor. They were supported, in a great measure, by the proceeds of the tribute of foreign provinces, and by the plunder taken by the generals in the name of the state in foreign wars. From the same source, too—foreign conquest—captives were brought home, to be trained as gladiators to amuse them with their combats, and statues and paintings to ornament the public buildings of the city. In the same manner, large quantities of corn, which had been taken in the provinces, were often distributed at Rome. And sometimes even land itself, in large tracts, which had been confiscated by the state, or otherwise taken from the original possessors, was divided among the people. The laws enacted from time to time for this purpose were called Agrarian laws; and the phrase afterward passed into a sort of proverb, inasmuch as plans proposed in modern times for conciliating the favor of the populace by sharing among them property belonging to the state or to the rich, are designated by the name of Agrarianism.

[62] Thus Rome was a city supported, in a great measure, by the fruits of its conquests, that is, in a certain sense, by plunder. It was a vast community most efficiently and admirably organized for this purpose; and yet it would not be perfectly just to designate the people simply as a band of robbers. They rendered, in some sense, an equivalent for what they took, in establishing and enforcing a certain organization of society throughout the world, and in preserving a sort of public order and peace. They built cities, they constructed aqueducts and roads; they formed harbors, and protected them by piers and by castles; they protected commerce, and cultivated the arts, and encouraged literature, and enforced a general quiet and peace among mankind, allowing of no violence or war except what they themselves created. Thus they governed the world, and they felt, as all governors of mankind always do, fully entitled to supply themselves with the comforts and conveniences of life, in consideration of the service which they thus rendered.

Of course, it was to be expected that they would sometimes quarrel among themselves about the spoils. Ambitious men were always arising, eager to obtain opportunities to make [63] fresh conquests, and to bring home new supplies, and those who were most successful in making the results of their conquests available in adding to the wealth and to the public enjoyments of the city, would, of course, be most popular with the voters. Hence extortion in the provinces, and the most profuse and lavish expenditure in the city, became the policy which every great man must pursue to rise to power.

Cæsar entered into this policy with his whole soul, founding all his hopes of success upon the favor of the populace. Of course, he had many rivals and opponents among the patrician ranks, and in the Senate, and they often impeded and thwarted his plans and measures for a time, though he always triumphed in the end.

One of the first offices of importance to which he attained was that of quæstor, as it was called, which office called him away from Rome into the province of Spain, making him the second in command there. The officer first in command in the province was, in this instance, a praetor. During his absence in Spain, Cæsar replenished in some degree his exhausted finances, but he soon became very much discontented with so subordinate a position. His discontent was greatly increased by his com- [64] ing unexpectedly, one day, at a city then called Hades—the present Cadiz—upon a statue of Alexander, which adorned one of the public edifices there. Alexander died when he was only about thirty years of age, having before that period made himself master of the world. Cæsar was himself now about thirty-five years of age, and it made him very sad to reflect that, though he had lived five years longer than Alexander, he had yet accomplished so little. He was thus far only the second in a province, while he burned with an insatiable ambition to be the first in Rome. The reflection made him so uneasy that he left his post before his time expired, and went back to Rome, forming, on the way, desperate projects for getting power there.

His rivals and enemies accused him of various schemes, more or less violent and treasonable in their nature, but how justly it is not now possible to ascertain. They alleged that one of his plans was to join some of the neighboring colonies, whose inhabitants wished to be admitted to the freedom of the city, and, making common cause with them, to raise an armed force and take possession of Rome. It was said that, to prevent the accomplishment of this design, [65] an army which they had raised for the purpose of an expedition against the Cilician pirates was detained from its march, and that Cæsar, seeing that the government were on their guard against him, abandoned the plan.

They also charged him with having formed, after this, a plan within the city for assassinating the senators in the senate house, and then usurping, with his fellow-conspirators, the supreme power. Crassus, who was a man of vast wealth and a great friend of Cæsar's, was associated with him in this plot, and was to have been made dictator if it had succeeded. But, notwithstanding the brilliant prize with which Cæsar attempted to allure Crassus to the enterprise, his courage failed him when the time for action arrived. Courage and enterprise, in fact, ought not to be expected of the rich; they are the virtues of poverty.

Though the Senate were thus jealous and suspicious of Cæsar, and were charging him continually with these criminal designs, the people were on his side; and the more he was hated by the great, the more strongly he became intrenched in the popular favor. They chose him ædile. The aedile had the charge of the public edifices of the city, and of the games, [66] spectacles, and shows which were exhibited in them. Cæsar entered with great zeal into the discharge of the duties of this office. He made arrangements for the entertainment of the people on the most magnificent scale, and made great additions and improvements to the public buildings, constructing porticoes and piazzas around the areas where his gladiatorial shows and the combats with wild beasts were to be exhibited. He provided gladiators in such numbers, and organized and arranged them in such a manner, ostensibly for their training, that his enemies among the nobility pretended to believe that he was intending to use them as an armed force against the government of the city. They accordingly made laws limiting and restricting the number of the gladiators to be employed. Cæsar then exhibited his shows on the reduced scale which the new laws required, taking care that the people should understand to whom the responsibility for this reduction in the scale of their pleasures belonged. They, of course, murmured against the Senate, and Cæsar stood higher in their favor than ever.

He was getting, however, by these means, very deeply involved in debt; and, in order partly to retrieve his fortunes in this respect, [67] he made an attempt to have Egypt assigned to him as a province. Egypt was then an immensely rich and fertile country. It had, however, never been a Roman province. It was an independent kingdom, in alliance with the Romans, and Cæsar's proposal that it should be assigned to him as a province appeared very extraordinary. His pretext was, that the people of Egypt had recently deposed and expelled their king, and that, consequently, the Romans might properly take possession of it. The Senate, however, resisted this plan, either from jealousy of Cæsar or from a sense of justice to Egypt; and, after a violent contest, Cæsar found himself compelled to give up the design. He felt, however, a strong degree of resentment against the patrician party who had thus thwarted his designs. Accordingly, in order to avenge himself upon them, he one night replaced certain statues and trophies of Marius in the Capitol, which had been taken down by order of Sylla when he returned to power. Marius, as will be recollected, had been the great champion of the popular party, and the enemy of the patricians; and, at the time of his downfall, all the memorials of his power and greatness had been every where removed from Rome, [68] and among them these statues and trophies, which had been erected in the Capitol in commemoration of some former victories, and had remained there until Sylla's triumph, when they were taken down and destroyed. Cæsar now ordered new ones to be made, far more magnificent than before. They were made secretly, and put up in the night. His office as aedile gave him the necessary authority. The next morning, when the people saw these splendid monuments of their great favorite restored, the whole city was animated with excitement and joy. The patricians, on the other hand, were filled with vexation and rage. "Here is a single officer," said they, "who is attempting to restore, by his individual authority, what has been formally abolished by a decree of the Senate. He is trying to see how much we will bear. If he finds that we will submit to this, he will attempt bolder measures still." They accordingly commenced a movement to have the statues and trophies taken down again, but the people rallied in vast numbers in defense of them. They made the Capitol ring with their shouts of applause; and the Senate, finding their power insufficient to cope with so great a force, gave up the point, and Cæsar gained the day.

[69] Cæsar had married another wife after the death of Cornelia. Her name was Pompeia, He divorced Pompeia about this time, under very extraordinary circumstances. Among the other strange religious ceremonies and celebrations which were observed in those days, was one called the celebration of the mysteries of the Good Goddess. This celebration was held by females alone, every thing masculine being most carefully excluded. Even the pictures of men, if there were any upon the walls of the house where the assembly was held, were covered. The persons engaged spent the night together in music and dancing and various secret ceremonies, half pleasure, half worship, according to the ideas and customs of the time.

The mysteries of the Good Goddess were to be celebrated one night at Cæsar's house, he himself having, of course, withdrawn. In the middle of the night, the whole company in one of the apartments were thrown into consternation at finding that one of their number was a man. He had a smooth and youthful-looking face, and was very perfectly disguised in the dress of a female. He proved to be a certain Clodius, a very base and dissolute young man, though of great wealth and high connections. [70] He had been admitted by a female slave of Pompeia's, whom he had succeeded in bribing. It was suspected that it was with Pompeia's concurrence. At any rate, Cæsar immediately divorced his wife. The Senate ordered an inquiry into the affair, and, after the other members of the household had given their testimony, Cæsar himself was called upon, but he had nothing to say. He knew nothing about it. They asked him, then, why he had divorced Pompeia, unless he had some evidence for believing her guilty. He replied, that a wife of Cæsar must not only be without crime, but without suspicion.

Clodius was a very desperate and lawless character, and his subsequent history shows, in a striking point of view, the degree of violence and disorder which reigned in those times. He became involved in a bitter contention with another citizen whose name was Milo, and each, gaining as many adherents as he could, at length drew almost the whole city into their quarrel. Whenever they went out, they were attended with armed bands, which were continually in danger of coming into collision. The collision at last came, quite a battle was fought, and Clodius was killed. This made the difficulty worse than it was before. Parties were [71] formed, and violent disputes arose on the question of bringing Milo to trial for the alleged murder. He was brought to trial at last, but so great was the public excitement, that the consuls for the time surrounded and filled the whole Forum with armed men while the trial was proceeding, to ensure the safety of the court.

In fact, violence mingled itself continually, in those times, with almost all public proceedings, whenever any special combination of circumstances occurred to awaken unusual excitement. At one time, when Cæsar was in office, a very dangerous conspiracy was brought to light, which was headed by the notorious Catiline. It was directed chiefly against the Senate and the higher departments of the government; it contemplated, in fact, their utter destruction, and the establishment of an entirely new government on the ruins of the existing constitution. Cæsar was himself accused of a participation in this plot. When it was discovered, Catiline himself fled; some of the other conspirators were, however, arrested, and there was a long and very excited debate in the Senate on the question of their punishment. Some were for death. Cæsar, however, very earnestly opposed this plan, recommending, in- [72] stead, the confiscation of the estates of the conspirators, and their imprisonment in some of the distant cities of Italy. The dispute grew very warm, Cæsar urging his point with great perseverance and determination, and with a degree of violence which threatened seriously to obstruct the proceedings, when a body of armed men, a sort of guard of honor stationed there, gathered around him, and threatened him with their swords. Quite a scene of disorder and terror ensued. Some of the senators arose hastily and fled from the vicinity of Cæsar's seat to avoid the danger. Others, more courageous, or more devoted in their attachment to him, gathered around him to protect him, as far as they could, by interposing their bodies between his person and the weapons of his assailants. Cæsar soon left the Senate, and for a long time would return to it no more.

Although Cæsar was all this time, on the whole, rising in influence and power, there were still fluctuations in his fortune, and the tide sometimes, for a short period, went strongly against him. He was at one time, when greatly involved in debt, and embarrassed in all his affairs, a candidate for a very high office, that of Pontifex Maximus, or sovereign pontiff. The [73] office of the pontifex was originally that of building and keeping custody of the bridges of the city, the name being derived from the Latin word pons, which signifies bridge. To this, however, had afterward been added the care of the temples, and finally the regulation and control of the ceremonies of religion, so that it came in the end to be an office of the highest dignity and honor. Cæsar made the most desperate efforts to secure his election, resorting to such measures, expending such sums, and involving himself in debt to such an extreme, that, if he failed, he would be irretrievably ruined. His mother, sympathizing with him in his anxiety, kissed him when he went away from the house on the morning of the election, and bade hem farewell with tears. He told her that he should come home that night the pontiff, or he should never come home at all. He succeeded in gaining the election.

At one time Cæsar was actually deposed from a high office which he held, by a decree of the Senate. He determined to disregard this decree, and go on in the discharge of his office as usual. But the Senate, whose ascendency was now, for some reason, once more established, prepared to prevent him by force of arms. Cæsar, finding that he was not sustained, gave up the contest, put off his robes of office, and went home. Two days afterward a reaction occurred. A mass of the populace came together to his house, and offered their assistance to restore his rights and vindicate his honor. Cæsar, however, contrary to what every one would have expected of him, exerted his influence to calm and quiet the mob, and then sent them away, remaining himself in private as before. The Senate had been alarmed at the first outbreak of the tumult, and a meeting had been suddenly convened to consider what measures to adopt in such a crisis. When, however, they found that Cæsar had himself interposed, and by his own personal influence had saved the city from the danger which threatened it, they were so strongly impressed with a sense of his forbearance and generosity, that they sent for him to come to the senate house, and, after formally expressing their thanks, they canceled their former vote, and restored him to his office again. This change in the action of the Senate does not, however, necessarily indicate so great a change of individual sentiment as one might at first imagine. There was, undoubtedly, a large minority who were averse [75] to his being deposed in the first instance but, being outvoted, the decree of deposition was passed. Others were, perhaps, more or less doubtful. Cæsar's generous forbearance in refusing the offered aid of the populace carried over a number of these sufficient to shift the majority, and thus the action of the body was reversed. It is in this way that the sudden and apparently total changes in the action of deliberative assemblies which often take place, and which would otherwise, in some cases, be almost incredible, are to be explained.

After this, Cæsar became involved in another difficulty, in consequence of the appearance of some definite and positive evidence that he was connected with Catiline in his famous conspiracy. One of the senators said that Catiline himself had informed him that Cæsar was one of the accomplices of the plot. Another witness, named Vettius, laid an information against Cæsar before a Roman magistrate, and offered to produce Cæsar's handwriting in proof of his participation in the conspirator's designs. Cæsar was very much incensed, and his manner of vindicating himself from these serious charges was as singular as many of his other deeds. He arrested Vettius, and sentenced him to pay a [76] heavy fine, and to be imprisoned; and he contrived also to expose him, in the course of the proceedings, to the mob in the Forum, who were always ready to espouse Cæsar's cause, and who, on this occasion, beat Vettius so unmercifully, that he barely escaped with his life. The magistrate, too, was thrown into prison for having dared to take an information against a superior officer.

At last Cæsar became so much involved in debt, through the boundless extravagance of his expenditures, that something must be done to replenish his exhausted finances. He had, however, by this time, risen so high in official influence and power, that he succeeded in having Spain assigned to him as his province, and he began to make preparations to proceed to it. His creditors, however, interposed, unwilling to let him go without giving them security. In this dilemma, Cæsar succeeded in making an arrangement with Crassus, who has already been spoken of as a man of unbounded wealth and great ambition, but not possessed of any considerable degree of intellectual power. Crassus consented to give the necessary security, with an understanding that Cæsar was to repay him by exerting his political influence in [77] his favor. So soon as this arrangement was made, Cæsar set off in a sudden and private manner, as if he expected that otherwise some new difficulty would intervene.

He went to Spain by land, passing through Switzerland on the way. He stopped with his attendants one night at a very insignificant village of shepherds' huts among the mountains. Struck with the poverty and worthlessness of all they saw in this wretched hamlet, Cæsar's friends were wondering whether the jealousy, rivalry, and ambition which reigned among men every where else in the world could find any footing there, when Cæsar told them that, for his part, he should rather choose to be first in such a village as that than the second at Rome. The story has been repeated a thousand times, and told to every successive generation now for nearly twenty centuries, as an illustration of the peculiar type and character of the ambition which controls such a soul as that of Cæsar.

Cæsar was very successful in the administration of his province; that is to say, he returned in a short time with considerable military glory, and with money enough to pay all his debts, and furnish him with means for fresh electioneering.

[78] He now felt strong enough to aspire to the office of consul, which was the highest office of the Roman state. When the line of kings had been deposed, the Romans had vested the supreme magistracy in the hands of two consuls, who were chosen annually in a general election, the formalities of which were all very carefully arranged. The current of popular opinion was, of course, in Cæsar's favor, but he had many powerful rivals and enemies among the great, who, however, hated and opposed each other as well as him. There was at that time a very bitter feud between Pompey and Crassus, each of them struggling for power against the efforts of the other. Pompey possessed great influence through his splendid abilities and his military renown. Crassus, as has already been stated, was powerful through his wealth. Cæsar, who had some influence with them both, now conceived the bold design of reconciling them, and then of availing himself of their united aid in accomplishing his own particular ends.

He succeeded perfectly well in this management. He represented to them that, by contending against each other, they only exhausted their own powers, and strengthened the arms of their common enemies. He proposed to them [79] to unite with one another and with him, and thus make common cause to promote their common interest and advancement. They willingly acceded to this plan, and a triple league was accordingly formed, in which they each bound themselves to promote, by every means in his power, the political elevation of the others, and not to take any public step or adopt any measures without the concurrence of the three. Cæsar faithfully observed the obligations of this league so long as he could use his two associates to promote his own ends, and then he abandoned it.

Having, however, completed this arrangement, he was now prepared to push vigorously his claims to be elected consul. He associated with his own name that of Lucceius, who was a man of great wealth, and who agreed to defray the expenses of the election for the sake of the honor of being consul with Cæsar. Cæsar's enemies, however, knowing that they probably could not prevent his election, determined to concentrate their strength in the effort to prevent his having the colleague he desired. They made choice, therefore, of a certain Bibulus as their candidate. Bibulus had always been a political opponent of Cæsar's, and they thought [80] that, by associating him with Cæsar in the supreme magistracy, the pride and ambition of their great adversary might be held somewhat in check. They accordingly made a contribution among themselves to enable Bibulus to expend as much money in bribery as Lucceius, and the canvass went on.

It resulted in the election of Cæsar and Bibulus. They entered upon the duties of their office; but Cæsar, almost entirely disregarding his colleague, began to assume the whole power, and proposed and carried measure after measure of the most extraordinary character, all aiming at the gratification of the populace. He was at first opposed violently both by Bibulus and by many leading members of the Senate, especially by Cato, a stern and inflexible patriot, whom neither fear of danger nor hope of reward could move from what he regarded his duty. But Cæsar was now getting strong enough to put down the opposition which he encountered with out much scruple as to the means. He ordered Cato on one occasion to be arrested in the Senate and sent to prison. Another influential member of the Senate rose and was going out with him. Cæsar asked him where he was going. He said he was going with Cato. He [81] would rather, he said, be with Cato in prison, than in the Senate with Cæsar.

Cæsar treated Bibulus also with so much neglect, and assumed so entirely the whole control of the consular power, to the utter exclusion of his colleague, that Bibulus at last, completely discouraged and chagrined, abandoned all pretension to official authority, retired to his house, and shut himself up in perfect seclusion, leaving Cæsar to his own way. It was customary among the Romans, in their historical and narrative writings, to designate the successive years, not by a numerical date as with us, but by the names of the consuls who held office in them. Thus, in the time of Cæsar's consulship, the phrase would have been, "In the year of Cæsar and Bibulus, consuls," according to the ordinary usage; but the wags of the city, in order to make sport of the assumptions of Cæsar and the insignificance of Bibulus, used to say, "In the year of Julius and Cæsar, consuls," rejecting the name of Bibulus altogether, and taking the two names of Cæsar to make out the necessary duality.

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